We visited St. Germain l’Auxerrois this morning for Sunday Mass, entering the Gothic nave lined with white stone columns and sitting in the caned chairs.
Germain (c.380-448), Bishop of Auxerre in Burgundy, traveled to Britain to preach against the Pelagian heresy. On his way he stopped in Nanterre where he blessed the young Genevieve, encouraging her vocation. She would become Paris’s Patron Saint. He also stopped in Paris, preaching and baptizing. In 560 an oratory was erected, commemorating his rest stop, and a century later, a baptistery was built. When not filled with water, catechumens sat in the giant basin to hear instruction, and the first Paris school was founded.
The present church (the fourth) is a jewel box of Gothic and Renaissance styles. Across the street from the Louvre Palace, the church has witnessed royal baptisms, marriages, and burials from the 14th to the 18th centuries and has opened its doors to the many artisans who built and rebuilt the palace. Today the parish prays especially for artists.
The thirty-six bells in the tower, while being the grandest in Paris, have the unhappy history of having signaled the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of the Huguenots. Even so, festive occasions have been celebrated by these bells.
I knelt and prayed my thanksgivings for this church with its long history of witness and fervor, pride and intrigue, celebration and mourning. It seemed to encapsulate humanity in all of its frailties and all of its strengths. I looked about the immense stone sanctuary, so full of light on this dim day, and waited for the beginning of the great offering of the Mass.
Soon the procession approached, stepping up the aisle at a quick pace, two torchbearers (couldn’t have been older than eight) holding thick candles in heavy candlesticks that must have come from the High Altar, the young crucifer carrying his bronze crucifix, the celebrant in his green chasuble. They took their places near the modern altar covered in white linen, set up in the transept before the choir.
A dapper middle-aged man in a jacket and tie approached the lectern on the Gospel side, to the left of the altar, and began to conduct the small choir sitting in the front rows. He waved his hands enthusiastically, punctuating the musical phrases, opening his palms to God with the Alleluias. He would appear before the lectern from time to time as the Mass progressed for the sung responses and prayers – the Gloria, the Lord’s Prayer, the Kyrie Eleison.
The Mass danced through the liturgy, so familiar in spite of the French – the lessons, the offering, the sermon, the Canon of the Mass in which the bread and wine would be transformed to Body and Blood in the Consecration. Then the little torchbearers, their gigantic candlesticks flaming, led the small procession down the aisle to the wide open doors.
We joined in where we could, basking in the fellowship of Christ’s body of believers, these moments of worship linked by Grace. We looked up to the melodious pipes in the western wall, then to the opposite eastern apse where the red candle glimmered on the High Altar, on and up to the white columns of stone leading to the jeweled stained glass, all soaring to the heavens in vaulted splendor.
We rose, and after visiting the stunning 13th-century Lady Chapel off the south aisle, we stepped outside to the bright porch with the medieval carvings of saints around and above us and into the quiet bustle of Sunday in Paris.
2, Place du Louvre, Paris
Open daily; Weekday Masses: 8:20 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 12:10 p.m., 1:00 p.m., 6:30 p.m. Sunday Masses: 8:30 a.m., 9:45 a.m. (Organ), 11:30 (Organ), 5:45 p.m., 9:15 p.m.; Weekday Divine Office (chants with choir): 8 a.m.; Laudes,12:35 p.m., Mid-day Office,7:10 p.m.; Sunday Vespers: 4 p.m. with the St. Germain Quartet; Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament: weekdays noon-2 p.m.